Letter from the Publisher

October 2009

Welcome to the October issue of The Digital Journalist, the online monthly for visual journalism.

These are tough times. Although we may have escaped a re-run of The Great Depression, certain segments are continuing to plunge in a permanent reset. Unfortunately, journalism is one of those sectors.

In this month's issue we continue to show and discuss the consequences.

Our cover feature, "Upstate Girls: What Became of Collar City," is by Brenda Ann Kenneally, and edited by Beverly Spicer. We first saw this show this fall at Perpignan and looking at it was like receiving a visceral punch in the solar plexus. Brenda Ann is an example of the direction of the new photojournalism. Although she does some print assignments for publications like The New York Times, her gut directs her work. She uses her camera as a tool of social documentary, often depicting the lives of ordinary people around her. Her latest project is on her hometown of Troy, N.Y. Troy was once the richest town in New York State. Today the median income of a family of three is under $17,000. Brenda produces these projects herself and shows the work in exhibitions and on her Web site.

Over the past few months we have been discussing the plight of photojournalism. As we wrote last month the situation has gone from critical to dire. It is becoming increasingly clear that the days of print publications are coming to a close. In our editorial this month we call on publishers to come to grips with the reality that is facing them, and drop their print editions in order that their future, the online editions, will have a chance to survive.

Mark Loundy contributes a provocative essay on this subject called "Circling The Drain." He advocates that publishers should "amputate the gangrenous print product." It should be required reading in newsrooms and university journalism classes.

Terry Heaton has been following the issue of the dying newspaper for almost as long as he has been writing his column. This month he redefines exactly what is mass journalism's role in the cyberworld. Terry points out that "as knowledge is released upon the masses and access to information becomes easier and more widespread, the public has ways to inform itself that it never had before. This is new, and the elitist view that the press has of its audience has to change, or we will find ourselves eliminated from the growing stream that is news in the new world."

As traditional print fades away, we are beginning to see new forms of visual journalism take shape, directed by sites that are moving ahead with video, and actually pay visual journalists to do this work. Probably at the top of this list is the AARP Bulletin. Under the direction of Online Multimedia Editor Nicole Shea, they are commissioning stories from people like us.

One of those projects, "Silverton Saves Its Paper," was produced by Sonya Doctorian, who just lived through the folding of the Rocky Mountain News where she was on staff for six years. Sonya admired the pluck of Mark Esper, editor and publisher of the small, 100+-year-old Silverton Standard & the Miner, along with the leaders of the county historical society—and their ability to rescue the paper from the same fate as the Rocky. Just as the Silverton Standard reinvented itself in the face of a trying economy, Sonya is embracing a new chapter in her career as an independent videojournalist.

In an attempt to help photojournalists who need to discover a way to either get back into the industry, or just stay, Cathy Saypol offers advice on how to write an effective press release.

This month we feature three Dispatches: Mark Allen Johnson looks at the world of truck-stop prostitutes as part of his TIME.COM video project on the serial murders of the women; Sean Gallagher leaves his base in China to visit North Korea with a friend, and Spencer Platt is back with his work in the world's largest refugee camp site in Dadaab, Kenya.

E-Bits editor Beverly Spicer joins in the discussion about the death of newspapers in "Journalism is Dead. Long Live Journalism!" She offers video clips from the Mitchell Archives showing historical newspapers starting in 1655, a memorable scene from the 1941 film "Citizen Kane" known as "How to Run a Newspaper," and thoughts on the death of the newspapers expressed by Michael Moore in a September interview. She refers readers also to progress from think tanks by The New Yorker's Steve Coll and replays the fascinating animated film on the future of media in the now-famous "EPIC 2015."

After many years as a journalist in the trenches for NBC News, Ron Steinman has a different take on Walter Cronkite and CBS News, his competition for decades.

PBS recently completed the first of what will surely be many repeats of Ken Burns' latest documentary series on America's national parks. Despite its generally good reviews and a fairly wide audience, Ron Steinman, in a separate commentary, has a far different view of Burns' work.

In her A Reporter's Life piece, "Morale/Are You Happy Now?" Eileen Douglas wonders what the effect of all the firings and cutbacks in our business has been, not on those who've lost their jobs, but on those who are still left working in the newsroom.

Columnists Bill Pierce, David Burnett, Mark Loundy and Chuck Westfall are all back with their monthly words of wisdom.

Twelve years ago when we started The Digital Journalist, our first columnist was Dick Kraus, who at the time was a staff photographer for Newsday on Long Island, N.Y. While the magazine was often featuring work by famous photographers roving the globe, Dick's "Assignment Sheet" columns were about the stories of the photographers in the trenches of local newspapers. Now, after 143 issues, and several years after retiring from Newsday, Dick feels it is time to put a "30" to his "Through the Lens Dimly" column. We are grateful for all those wonderful stories he has shared with us. Please thank him in our comments area.

In fact, please share your comments about all our features and columns. Our September editorial on philanthropies drove more than 50 comments. They were well reasoned and insightful. If you missed reading them, please go to our archives and catch up. The solutions to our predicament can only come from us now. We are all on our own, and we all need help.

Please tell your friends and colleagues about us. We stand by to receive them.

Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher